Through the years, I have found when someone can’t forgive, often he or she is suffering from the effects of trauma and/or intense stress. These effects need to be tackled for your forgiveness work to be entirely successful. Forgiving the trauma done by or to another is fundamental.
These terrible experiences might have happened years ago. Nevertheless, they still can have deep effects on life in the present.
In November 2007, CBS news reported a suicide rate for Iraq veterans twice that of other Americans—“They are the casualties of wars you don’t often hear about.”
The suicide rate is higher for veterans than other Americans. The suicide rate for Vietnam veterans is higher than the combat fatalities in that war.
“When a deep injury is done to us, we never recover until we forgive.”
ALAN PATON 1903 – 1988 SOUTH AFRICAN WRITER/EDUCATOR
There is good reason for the veteran suicides, for the myths of forgiveness, for the controversy around forgiving, and for the difficulty to forgive in stressful conditions. To understand this, we need to look at how our brain functions under stress.
Brain research in recent years has given significant insight into:
• Why we act as we do
• How stress makes us react in unusual ways
• How to cope with stress reactions, so that we can respond more appropriately and with control.
Most people know the brain as a processor of information—the computer inside the head that deals with thoughts and body functions. This is not enough understanding to help when you are trying to forgive terrible behavior. Actually, most people’s present understanding of the brain hinders forgiveness.
The impact of the brain’s stress responses on us has not been acknowledged at the level that it should be. Better knowledge of stress and brain reactions can give insight and empathy for someone who has reacted in an unacceptable way, including yourself. This understanding and compassion does not justify what was done, but will help in letting go of the upset so that you can have peace of mind and heart.
We forgive all the time to offset the errors that we know happen as human beings. We have relatively smooth functioning on our roads, in our cities, and at our workplaces because people are forgiving. If they were not, we would have full-blown chaos and violence. Forgiveness is a normal action of the human mind when it is not trapped in the reactive systems of our brain. The more strain we have, the less we are likely to forgive—more stress, less forgiveness.
Yet forgiving is essential for success in any endeavor that involves others. Self-forgiveness is essential to succeed in any personal under- taking. Learning how your survival mechanisms affect you enables you to look at negative situations in your life in a different way.
Forgiving is difficult if the stressed-brain reactions are occurring at the same time that an offense happens because all future memories of it, for example, the loss of job, property or a loved one, are trapped in the stress response. Thus, anytime that memory recurs there is a flood of terrible reactions, even years later. Naturally, you would want to avoid those painful memories.
However, avoiding is not really to your best interest because this upset remains just under the surface of your awareness negatively coloring your life. Many unforgiven, unresolved events can subtly keep your mind in a negative state much of the time. If you add to that, the ongoing stress of the threat of loss of job, home, or loved one, etc. your situation could look quite hopeless. But it isn’t.
Forgiving is a powerful way out.
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